The enormous popularity of his pamphlet Common Sense made Thomas Paine one of the best-known patriots during the early years of American independence. His subsequent service with the Continental Army, his publication of The American Crisis (1776–83), and his work with Pennsylvania’s revolutionary government consolidated his reputation as one of the foremost radicals of the Revolution. Thereafter, Paine spent almost fifteen years in Europe, where he was actively involved in the French Revolution, articulating his radical social, economic, and political vision in major publications such as The Rights of Man (1791), The Age of Reason (1793-1807), and Agrarian Justice (1797). Such radicalism was deemed a danger to the state in his native Britain, where Paine was found guilty of sedition, and even in the United States some of Paine’s later publications lost him a great deal of his early popularity.
Yet despite this legacy, historians have paid less attention to Paine than to other leading Patriots such as Thomas Jefferson. In Paine and Jefferson in the Age of Revolutions, editors Simon Newman and Peter Onuf present a collection of essays that examine how the reputations of two figures whose outlooks were so similar have had such different trajectories.
These provocative essays not only offer striking insights into the ideas and careers of Paine and Jefferson, but also shed important new light on the age of democratic revolution they did so much to usher in.
A remarkable intellectual treat, served up by Anglo-American scholars, who masterfully enhance our understanding and appreciation of Enlightenment democratic theory.
Paine and Jefferson in the Age of Revolutions is a much-needed addition to the canon, and will go far to help a new generation come to terms with two of our more elusive founding figures. These essays contain a rich trove of fresh insights about Paine and Jefferson, and their relationships with their times, their reading public, and each other. Peter Onuf and Simon Newman have rendered an important public service.
Simon P. Newman is the Sir Denis Brogan Professor of American History at the University of Glasgow. Peter S. Onuf is a Senior Research Fellow at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia.